By REID TUCKER
An explosive second quarter gave Walton the leverage it needed to overcome South Walton’s home-court advantage to take the win 68-59.
The game, played Friday, Dec. 3, at South Walton, started out close, the first quarter ending with just three points separating the score, but Walton (3-3) pulled away before the half, outpointing South Walton (2-3) 19-4 in the second quarter. The Seahawks would never recover from the effects of the period even though they outpointed Walton in the second half. The Braves have beaten South Walton 16 times both at home and away over the course of the 17-game series, falling just once to the Seahawks on neutral territory at Northview in 2009.
Walton’s top scorer was far and away sophomore DeShun Tucker, who put up 23 points, and the next-highest was Ken Randolph with 12 points. The Seahawks spread their scoring around, as Shafer Martin scored 20 points over three quarters. Tanner DeGafferelly scored 13 points and Chadd Bryant scored 10 for South Walton.
Walton’s players missed nine baskets from the free-throw line, going 11-18 behind the charity stripe. The Seahawks, on the other hand, left the 9-point difference in the game’s final score and another 10 points beside on the board by completing only 11 of 29 free throws. South Walton coach John Davies said this proved a stumbling block for the team in spite of a third-quarter rally that saw the ‘Hawks climb to within five points of Walton.
“You can’t miss 18 free throws against a good team like Walton and give yourself a very good chance to win,” Davies said. “If you lose by nine and miss 18 free throws you kind of have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘We could have given ourselves a much better chance to win this game.’”
As previously mentioned, the first quarter was quite close, as Bryant got on the scoreboard first for South Walton with a quick 2-pointer, though the Braves had pulled ahead to a five-point lead in as many minutes. Tucker scored two 2-pointers and a three for Walton by the end of the quarter, and was backed up by Spencer Nall with two, Angus Anderson with three and Edward Howard, who scored four points. Bryant scored six points for the Seahawks but missed on two free throws though team mate Tyler Abbot went 3-4 behind the line and scored a 2-pointer of his own to make the score 20-17 as the buzzer sounded.
The second quarter was more one-sided, though neither team scored until 6:25 showed on the clock. The stalemate was broken on a jump shot from South Walton, making the score a close 20-19. Tucker made a 3-pointer less than a minute later and, after whiffing a dunk attempt, he joined Steven Myrick and Howard for a trio of layups, opening up 10-point lead over the ‘Hawks. South Walton scored just four points in the quarter, all of which were made by Bryant on two field goals close to the end of the half.
Already down 39-21 coming out of the locker room, South Walton rallied back in a big way in the third quarter, with DeGafferelly scoring two 2-pointers, a three and twice from the free-throw line. Martin also made a good account of himself, scoring a string of twos and a three for nine points total in the period. Luke Andrews and Myrick got on the scoreboard for a two and a three, respectively, and Randolph scored five points on two field goals (one of which was a last-second dunk) and a free throw.
In spite of clawing back to outscore Walton by three points for the quarter, South Walton still trailed 15 points going into the final quarter. Martin scored another nine points, including two 3-pointers and Abbot scored on a single field goal and went 4-7 from the free-throw line. Dalvon Stuckey, Randolph and Myrick scored two points apiece for the Braves, and Tucker scored four back-to-back layups to win the game 68-59 for Walton.
Both Walton and South Walton came into the matchup on the heels of losses. The Braves were beaten out 65-56 by Crestview the night before and the ‘Hawks fell 67-48 to Holmes County and 62-29 to Cottondale before that. Walton coach Brad West said his players were comfortable in the game against South Walton because of those hard knocks early in the season, which worked out in the Braves’ favor as several of their players were fresh off the football season and needed time on the court.
“I felt good (going into the game) because of the competition we played early in the year,” West said. “Those kinds of game make you feel good about these kinds of game. We came out and shot the ball really well so at halftime I felt comfortable. I got to play a lot of our guys that needed some minutes, so I was glad to have that opportunity.”
Next up for South Walton is a district game against Bozeman on Tuesday, Dec. 7, and Walton will play its first district game at Marianna on Friday, Dec. 10.